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Why is it So Difficult to Kill Failing Projects?

Putting the axe to a project is one of the hardest things a project manager can do, but it can be one of the bravest signs of leadership. What makes us so reluctant to terminate a project? Pearl Zhu has devised five points that play with our judgement when it comes to pulling the plug on a terminal patient:

  1. Emotion
  2. Design criteria
  3. Communication
  4. Checklist or constant monitoring
  5. Guidelines over rules

The Reaper Beckons

When you spend a lot of time on a project, it becomes your darling, but as the old piece of writing advice goes—“Kill your darlings.” You need to be willing to admit you cannot get the job done and courageous enough to stop wasting any more company resources on it. Having good design criteria with clear parameters from the outset is usually a good way to ensure that a job can get done, but when not properly managed for creep as time goes on, the possibility of failure returns.

This of course alludes back to the importance of communication. Zhu recommends coming up with a set of “kill conditions,” both general and project-specific, at the outset of projects to further manage risks. Whether or not these conditions are met would be determined via checklists or monitoring at regular intervals. In the end, Zhu says you need to remember that guidelines come above rules:

The pipeline is crowded with failing projects that continued to absorb resources and clutter the pipeline. In the end, you need to build a process that enables smart people to behave intelligently. Set guidelines, not rigid rules for continuous evaluation, Another key is that at the end of a project, you have a post mortem as part of the standard work. The purpose is to review how effectively the process works and what the team would change for the next project. In the case of a “killed” project, the process review centers on: could you have done something differently early on that would have facilitated success over kill? Could you have made the kill decision sooner?, Can you change the project selection criteria so that this project would not have been selected?

No one likes to kill a project. But a project manager has to do what a project manager has to do. You can read Zhu’s full post here:

About John Friscia

John Friscia is the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and continues to provide graphic design support for AITS. He graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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